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AK vs AK Review – Overindulgent, but OK!

A still from AK vs AK. Image sourced from mid-day archives

AK vs AK
On: Netflix
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap
Rating: Rating

Film buffs, you’ll often notice, use the word meta to describe some works with such seriousness that you sense it must be something so deeply intellectual—like metaphysics, maybe—rendering it boring, perhaps. What does meta really mean? A self-aware exercise in self-referencing—just a film about a film, loaded with irony, for instance—a comment on itself.

Right from the get go, AK vs AK is therefore as much a clockwork thriller, with a receding timeline, like Anil Kapoor in the Indian 24, as Beyond Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) is a movie. Or Borat is a documentary. Or Curb Your Enthusiasm is a reality series.

It is, and it is so not. The fact of hanging in that balance of what’s real and fictional suspends audiences into disbelief and belief at the same time. Which is part of the fun. Way too many Hindi movies have had portions you’d call meta, in their own right.

Check out the trailer of AK vs AK here:

The fact of hammering it in every shot, scene and sequence over close to two hours, titling it after the lead actors, who are also the lead characters, makes AK vs AK a unique desi pic— directed by Vikramditya Motwane (Lootera, Trapped, Udaan), India’s very own Sidney Lumet, who simply never repeats himself.

At the centre of this darkish mockumentary are the self centred lives of AK no 1, Bollywood star Anil Kapoor, and AK No 2, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, with a world around them that sort of pushes them to be the self-obsessed creatures they are.

This is also quite in line with how celebrities are anyway perceived as fictions. The argument, to quote an old Granta magazine, being that they are media inventions, with amplified, distorted or invented parts of their lives assembled for our benefit—and made familiar to us through the media.

What’s the first thing you’re likely to do if Anil Kapoor actually showed up asking for help on the street? Probably take a selfie. But Anil Kapoor is indeed in need of help—looking for his daughter, Sonam, who’s been abducted. He walks around, often across live locations, seeking her out, while Bombay cabbies and pedestrians look on.

What must he do, while he’s at it? Dance to ‘One two ka four, four two ka one’, because his name is Lakhan! Curious to know, if this really happened; would it play it out any differently? Good question.

You can’t tell anymore between the public and private selves. That Anil Kapoor is also starring in a film here, with a camera instructed to be on throughout—capturing reality, as if it was fiction—makes this a film within a film, within a film! You’ll like at least one of these films. Or all three as a result, since they’re one and the same!

Docu-fiction involving a real-life director first reminded me of Abbas Kiarostami’s Persian masterpiece Close Up (1990), about Mohsen Makhmalbaf. But over here, the director is the smooth criminal. Anurag Kashyap plays the hardened mastermind, who’s abducted Anil’s daughter to teach him a lesson, and film his plight over a night, alongside.

Also Read: AK Vs AK Director Vikramaditya Motwane: Secure Enough To Make Fun Of Themselves

How are you supposed to digest any of this? You’re not. The character sketches and cameos are meant to somehow guide you in that direction—the fact that the back-stories of both Anil and Anurag are seemingly true, as we know them to be, and we see them on screen. Including issues between them in the past, that played out in the press, over a movie they were once meant to do together, and that Anil dropped out of.

Frankly, past the essential 15 minutes of establishing their roles, the exaggerated acrimony between AK and AK appears way too juiced out for satire to work just as well. They border on parody, then slip into overindulgence, and often overstay welcome, even if that’s the point.

That the two actors on screen, playing themselves, perform all of it still, with remarkable seriousness and a straight face is commendable. Besides, that trolling your own selves in public like this, might be the bravest thing any actor has done on screen, lately. As a reasonably close observer, which is what journalists tend to be, I’ve always loved Anil and Anurag as they are—which is what they roughly play—even if it’s not in real life, but is closest to it.

Can’t help but think, though, that if these were not the times of social media, where access to celebrities is infinite and instant on Instagram—how incredible the shock value would be if the stars of yore (mythologised beyond imagination), say Dilip Kumar or Shammi Kapoor, or directors Guru Dutt or Bimal Roy played these lead parts! Alas there were no digital cameras then (impossible to do this otherwise).

Outside of casual voyeurism boxed into a genre flick, what are you supposed to make of this spoof of a spoof (showbiz/celebrity lives)? That’s thing about stuff that’s meta—you gotta look beyond what you see.

For instance, an AK (Anurag), who represents resentment and bitterness of having come up the hard way. The other AK (Anil) standing in for the arrogance of a fading elite, in a world that’s changed altogether. One AK is showing the other AK his place, literally. Is there more? Well a movie like this is supposed to be conversation starter. Go find your own meta-phor!

Also Read: Anil Kapoor: I Shamelessly Approached Anurag Kashyap For Film

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